Drug policy reform advocates in Uruguay

In 2013, Uruguay took the unprecedented step of legalizing the production and use of marijuana. Yet, two years on, a commercial market is still in the project stage: not a single gram of cannabis has been cultivated for sale in pharmacies. The process is mired in complex regulatory details. It seems that legalizing marijuana is more complicated than anyone had predicted.

The debate over regulating cannabis in the Americas is moving fast. ChileColombia and Jamaica have taken concrete legal steps toward regulation. Regulating a new industry like cannabis is incredibly complex. Many drug policy advocates debate the merits of legalization or prohibition, yet rarely discuss the details of how such policies might work. This can be seen recently in Uruguay, where the discussion is mired in detail.

In December 2013 Uruguay became the first country in the modern era to legalize the production and use of cannabis. After drug policy reformers and human rights activists applauded the historic move, regulators were tasked with the complex work of drafting regulations, receiving and vetting applications, and establishing the technical framework to monitor the market. Uruguay’s cannabis law allows individuals to access the drug in three ways: grow at home, belong to a club, or buy it in licensed pharmacies. A year and nine months since the president signed the law about 3,000 people have registered to grow at home and approximately seven clubs have been licensed. Yet, not a single gram of cannabis has been cultivated for sale in pharmacies.

This article was originally published by El Daily Post and is reprinted with permission. See the original here

Many have bemoaned the slow rollout, especially when it comes to pharmacy sales. Immediately after the law’s passage, many wondered when cannabis would be sold in pharmacies. In May 2014 regulators set a six month deadline for pharmacy sales. As November came, regulators backed off setting a firm date because of general elections. Just this past August, the government said it would announce licensees this September.

September is nearly over and here we are, without any names or details. Why is it taking so long to sell retail cannabis? The answer has to do with the complexity of regulatory design. Unlike grow at home and cannabis clubs, crafting smart regulations for pharmacy sales is complex, requiring the monitoring of various actors: producers, processors, distributors and even users. Remember, it took an average of 16 months for stores to open in Colorado and Washington, and both these jurisdictions had existing medical cannabis markets -- something Uruguay did not have.

According to the latest news, the regulatory authority, IRCCA, might name the approved producers in the coming weeks with the anticipation of cannabis being sold in pharmacies in early 2016.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Uruguay Legalization

Apart from this time frame, the bulletin mentions other challenges of cannabis regulation. These point to a lack of staff and funds. The staffing issue is related to lack of funds, but it impedes the application process. Initially, regulators need to conduct site visits, background checks, review business plans, interview applicants and more. Afterward, staff will need to monitor licensee behavior via inspections and investigations, examine receipts and inventory logs and fine noncompliant actors.

Regulating an entirely new industry requires that upfront costs be borne by the government. Whether they like it or not, Uruguayan taxpayers have been footing the bill as IRCCA operates without revenue. Though expensive at first, it is better to invest in the fixed costs of a strong regulatory agency before the market matures. Once mature, fees and taxes should cover the costs of regulations, such as monitoring licensed producers, pharmacies and clubs, product testing and prevention campaigns.


Many drug policy advocates debate the merits of legalization or prohibition, yet rarely discuss the details of how such policies might work.


IRCCA plans to have a $500,000 operating budget for the coming year. This is more than its estimated take in fees for 2016: just under $140,000. The fact that regulating cannabis will cost the government shouldn’t be a worry for the first few years. IRCCA estimates that fees will generate $1.3 million between 2017 and 2019. However, regulators need to elaborate on the free structure of licenses and tax burden of products sold in the pharmacies. Taxes are not detailed in regulation and the figures put out by IRCCA are open to interpretation. Details will better inform the public and policymakers keen on keeping costs low; regulating cannabis should not be a drain on public coffers.

Others, such as Chile, Colombia and Jamaica, need to appreciate these costs and the time it takes to regulate something as complex as the cannabis market. Designing clear and enforceable rules, vetting firms, and monitoring the behavior of firms all takes resources and time. After nearly a century of prohibition, what’s wrong with waiting a few more years to get it right?

*This article was originally published by El Daily Post and is reprinted with permission. See the original here

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power. In rural sectors, uniformed BACRIM armed with assault rifles still patrol in...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy. Unlike their paramilitary and drug cartel predecessors, the BACRIM maintain a diversified...